As we head into the final week of the regular season, a clear top-4 remains at the top of the power ratings. Alabama stubbornly remains #1, which surprised me this week given their close shave against Arkansas. I really thought they were going to fall, at least to #2, but they maintain their hold on the top spot, even if it is by a narrow margin.
The Ohio State-Michigan matchup this week is the marquee matchup of the season, at least based on the power ratings. We have not yet had a matchup between two teams this highly-rated this season.
According to the ratings, Ohio State should be about a 2.5 point favorite over Michigan, but that’s at a neutral site. The game is being played in Ann Arbor, which would swing the game in Michigan’s favor.
There’s some debate over just how much home field advantage is worth in college football, but in my view it’s definitely worth more than the standard 3-3.5 points it’s worth in the NFL. It really all depends on the stadium, though. Because I’d say some home field advantages in college football are worth like 6-7 points, maybe more. LSU’s Death Valley in a night game, for example, is an insanely hard place to play. Happy Valley is an incredibly tough environment. Texas A&M’s Kyle Field is one of the hardest places to play in the whole country.
The Big House in Ann Arbor is a really tough environment as well. I’d say it’s worth at least 6 points for Michigan on the spread, meaning that with the home field advantage, they’d be something like a 4.5 point favorite in my estimation.
Do I believe that? Well, probably not. I still think Ohio State is the better team. My ratings are pretty good, but they’re not infallible.
You just look at the common games they’ve played. Ohio State has been way better in all of them:
- Rutgers: Ohio State won 52-13 on the road, Michigan won 20-13 at home.
- Maryland: Ohio State won 66-17 at home, Michigan won 59-18 on the road.
- Indiana: Ohio State won 54-7 on the road, Michigan won 29-7 at home.
- Michigan State: Ohio State won 56-7 at home, Michigan lost 37-33 on the road.
- Penn State: Ohio State won 33-24 at home, Michigan won 21-17 on the road.
- Nebraska: Ohio State won 26-17 on the road, Michigan won 32-29 on the road.
Ohio State won each game by an average margin of 33.7 points, Michigan won each of the common games by an average margin of 12.1 points.
Especially after the Michigan State game, it’s just hard to avoid the conclusion that, based on the “eye test,” Ohio State is clearly a better team than Michigan.
But the point of the statistical power ratings is to measure teams by objective criteria, because we humans are prone to bias and subjectivity.
Maybe Michigan really is right there with Ohio State. The ratings believe they are. We’ll just have to wait and see.
As far as the Bama-Georgia SEC Championship Game 2 weeks from now, which will be played at a neutral site (albeit one way closer to Georgia’s campus), the ratings think Bama should be favored ever so slightly, not even a point. It’s basically a toss-up game.
This is another line I’m not sure I agree with. I think Georgia’s been better than Bama all season long. Again, you look at the common games they’ve played, and Georgia has been more impressive:
- Florida: Georgia won 34-7 at a neutral site, Bama won 31-29 on the road.
- Arkansas: Georgia won 37-0 at home, Bama won 42-35 at home.
- Tennessee: Georgia won 41-17 on the road, Bama won 52-24 on the road.
Georgia won by an average margin of 29.3 points per game, Bama won the three games by an average margin of 12.3 points per game.
Georgia has been way more dominant against common opponents. The “eye test” tells me that Georgia is the better football team, but the ratings say Bama is ever so slightly better. Again, only time will tell if my ratings got it right.
But the Bama-Georgia game isn’t happening for two weeks. What about some of the other big games scheduled for Rivalry Week?
My ratings say Oklahoma State should be favored by about 8 over Oklahoma at a neutral site, and probably by 11 or 12 at home. The Vegas line right now is -3.5 Oklahoma State.
My ratings think Ole Miss should be favored by 12.5 over Mississippi State, but the game is in Starkville, and it’s a rivalry game, so no way should the line be as lopsided as Ole Miss -12.5. Vegas has MSU -1.0 right now.
The game that looms over everything this weekend is Ohio State-Michigan, though. The loser is out of both the Big Ten Title hunt and the National Championship hunt. The winner advances to the Big Ten Championship and gets the opportunity to punch its ticket to the playoff. Of course, Wisconsin is no free win for whichever team ends up winning the Big Ten East. Wisconsin, after a bad start to the season, has moved all the way up to #6 in my power ratings. Defensively, Wisconsin is elite. They’re right up there with Georgia, at least statistically. They rank #2 nationwide in total defense, right behind Georgia, allowing just 237.7 yards per game. Georgia allows 236.8. Wisco allows only 4.1 yards per play on defense, 2nd best nationally, and only Georgia is better at 3.7 YPP allowed.
Wisconsin, even if they win the Big Ten, has no shot at making the playoff. They’ve already got three losses, including one to Michigan, and it wasn’t a particularly close game. Wisconsin can, however, play spoiler for whoever wins the Ohio State-Michigan game, and ensure that no Big Ten team makes it to the College Football Playoff.
In the event of Wisconsin winning the Big Ten, all hell basically breaks loose in the College Football Playoff picture. We could end up with 2 SEC teams in the playoff no matter what happens between Georgia and Bama. Cincinnati probably gets in. Oklahoma State could get in assuming they beat Oklahoma both this week and in the Big 12 Championship Game. Notre Dame could even get in.
Wisconsin still has to take care of business at Minnesota in the final game of the regular season. Minnesota is my 27th best team in the ratings, so it’s no slam-dunk.
It’s going to be a fun final week of the season.